Hipster’s Guide to the World Cup Vol. 1: The Fallen Soldiers
Teams that will be missed at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
Less than a month to go until the first game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup where Russia will face off with Saudi Arabia. That’s right, buy your jerseys, get the beers ready, and… wait,
WHAT? The United States didn’t qualify!? Well… that’s bulls#$t.
Tell me about it; I have the good fortune of being able to support three different countries, and none of them made it to the World Cup this year. Not even the four-time World Cup winners, Italy, survived the qualifiers.
The journey to the tournament was many things, but most of all, it was brutal and surprising— for some teams that is. For the represented countries, Russia 2018 is the opportunity for many wild cards, such as: Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and Poland to stun the world and bring back the trophy to their countries.
However, before diving into the matchups, superstars and glory, this is the time to remember the fallen nations that will be missed this summer.
1. Ghana – CAF
Arguably one of the most dominant nations in Africa when it comes to soccer, Ghana will be missing this summer. Although not the most competitive bracket when it comes to level of play, the African region allows for teams with similar playing styles to provide entertaining matchups. Even though their roster had talents, such as Asamoah Gyan, André Ayew, and Michael Essien, individual skill was not enough to overcome the challenges set by their qualification group and Egypt’s team effort. With only seven points (ahead of only Congo), Ghana didn’t even come close.
Ghana contributed to one of the most interesting rivalries in the World Cup against the United States of America. The U.S. was only able to defeat the African nation in 2014 after being eliminated by them in 2006 AND 2010. Although many players from the U.S. say that there wasn’t anything between the countries besides a continuous coincidental matchup, it’s undeniable that there was tension during the matches (in fact every game was close, ending in 2-1 FT). In 2014, all the advertising for the game was set up around the constant failure of the United States to produce against Ghana in previous World Cups, so this rose the stakes. It’s sad to say that the streak has ended for both teams.
2. United State of America – CONCACAF
That’s right, the United States of America also failed to progress to the group stage of the tournament.
Soccer isn’t the country’s most respected or liked sport, but that isn’t really a reason that justifies their failure. The CONCACAF is only behind the Asian and Oceania sectors in terms of how easy it is to qualify. There are only two teams that theoretically give the USA any competition: Mexico and Costa Rica. Panama replaced them this year.
First off, the United States put themselves in a position where their only way to qualify was by defeating Trinidad and Tobago. On paper, the odds were in their favor, but because of a combination of mediocre strategy and lack of player flare, Trinidad and Tobago won (2-0 FT).
It never should’ve gotten so close to where the U.S. should have been eliminated, but since their players are unfit and play in mediocre leagues, it makes sense how other nations came out on top. The only American talent to play outside of the MLS is Christian Pulisic, a youngster who plays in Germany for Borussia Dortmund. The rest of their squad? Well, they are satisfied playing on small teams with no competition in America.
Their inconsistent training schedule didn’t help them at all either. Since the MLS rotates on spring and fall/winter seasons, the players on these teams lack any serious international training for at least two months. Whereas in Europe, professional soccer players play year round with only a one month vacation in the summer. Also, their training camps only recruit players out of college, and thus miss out on a talent pool that could have given them a better overall team.
The United States was at it’s best in recent years when Jürgen Klinsmann recruited American players from other countries, including Mexico and Germany (these were American citizens who had relocated for one reason or another).
With the U.S.A. eliminated, record holder for most saves, Tim Howard, will be absent. He is the team’s most talented player and deserved better, but there is not much one can do when the rest of the team plays with no passion.
I hope that the tournament is still recognized in the United States this summer, even though they won’t be present. If people don’t want to hop on the bandwagon just because the U.S. isn’t playing, then see, that is why the team plays without spontaneity. How can a team play with ambition if its supporters don’t show any interest at all? The problem starts here.
3. Chile – CONMEBOL
The recent Copa America champions will also miss out of the tournament this year. Chile showed promise in the past two tournaments taking down Argentina (2014 World Cup runners-up) in both the 2015 Copa America and Copa America Centenario finals. All was looking great for the Chileans, but the CONMEBOL process proved too treacherous for them (even with a skilled team).
When it comes to a charged up roster with incredible talent, Chile does not disappoint, however, in the long term the team did. Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Bravo were not enough to surpass the qualifying stage even with their reputations and perfect performances. As a team they play very well in short tournaments, but since the qualifying stage spans over two years in total, it asks for endurance from the players.
Ultimately, what led to their deterioration was their lack of capable substitutes for their starting eleven. Also, having a broad bench with good players is essential to success for a long-term tournament. Think about why Real Madrid keeps winning the Champion’s League.
Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, and Uruguay were the only countries to come out fresh, which is why they qualified. The CONMEBOL is the most ruthless and competitive confederation. With only four secured spots for grabs, it proves to be incredibly difficult for good teams such as Ecuador, Chile, and Paraguay to progress.
Chile wasn’t a bad team, but the other teams were better.
4. Holland – Europe
The 2010 runners-up to Spain is Holland, who will also be missing this year. Not much was expected from the Dutch this year because their team hasn’t been able to be consistent after their downfall in South Africa. However, this is another team, like Chile, who almost made it.
France led the group, and understandably so. Have you seen their squad? Then Sweden was tied with Netherlands with 19 points, but the Swedish led in goal differential of +17. Holland fell short with only +9, so Sweden continued to a playoff against Italy, and were taken down because of the injustice of the system.
Dutch legends, Schneider and Arjen Robben, will be watching the games from their couch for once, which sucks because it would have been the last World Cup for both players as they are rumored to retire from international soccer soon. Rising stars, such as Blind and Memphis Depay, might still have their chance in the future though.
Holland’s absence will still give off a sour taste in my mouth. They are a team that you’d never think would miss out on the tournament, but suddenly fell off the face of the Earth. In fact, when the World Cup first started, the Dutch were a force to be reckoned with, and over time have produced some of the most talented players in history, such as Johan Cruyff and Rudd van Nistelrooy.
The missing bright orange uniforms will definitely be striking to fans in Russia this summer.
5. Italy – Europe
Four-time World Cup Champions.
La Forza Azzuri.
This is the most disappointing thing to happen to soccer since— I don’t even know when! When you think soccer, you automatically think Italy. The country revolves around the sport as much as everyone there eats pasta. From street culture to the Serie A, soccer is essential to Italian culture. The fact that their team will be left out of Russia this year is both disappointing and tragic.
Coming in second place of their group, behind (superpowers) Spain, Italy had to defeat Sweden in order to qualify. However, they made it difficult for themselves in the opening leg, losing 1-0. Then, the second game ended in a goalless draw. For the first time in over 50 years (only second time overall), Italy won’t be present in a World Cup.
This struck me the hardest because Italy was always a safe candidate for me in the tournament. I’m Venezuelan born, with American citizenship and Italian descent, so I can support three teams. Venezuela has never qualified for the FIFA spectacle, the United States has always been okay, but always lacked the spark, and Italy— their defensive playing style and love for the game is what I grew up with.
The first World Cup that I saw was in 2006 where my family and I supported the Italian team to the end. Their victory over France was ecstatic and filled my household with joy. Not being able to watch them this year will be like tearing a piece of my being.
And no, I’m not exaggerating.
The most disastrous turnout from this is that goalkeeping legend, Gianluigi Buffon, will not be able to play in his last World Cup. The 40-year-old is an inspiration to players around the globe, and the lack of his presence will be noted. After Italy’s defeat, a disheartened Buffon apologized with: “I am sorry for all of Italian football.”
For Italy to not play soccer this summer is for Italy to not live, and Il Azzurri knew this.
Their only hope to make up for this calamity is in 2022 when they come back fighting to bring the trophy home.